By Parthian intern Julia Bradley
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited along on a Parthian trip up to Scotland, alongside Maria and Shona. The purpose of the trip was to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival (12-28th August) and to support author Ece Temelkuran in promoting her book Women Who Blow on Knots. What followed was a whirlwind few days of meeting authors, exploring the city, and experiencing some of the varied performance offerings from the fringe festival.
We began our trek up to Edinburgh on Thursday, and took a seven-and-a-half hour train journey north from Swansea, reaching the city in the evening. While Maria headed over to the Book Festival site, Shona and I began trying to get our bearings. After wandering past the Elephant House cafe (of Harry Potter fame) we ended up at a free comedy event. The performance merged nerdy stand-up with audience participation in a Dungeons & Dragons inspired roleplaying game - thoroughly exhausted by a combination of trains and dice (and a glass or two of wine), we headed back to our hostel for the night.
As Friday dawned, Shona and I began to properly explore the city (getting a bit lost in the process), and headed over to the National Museum of Scotland (which features, amongst other things, a taxidermied Dolly the sheep). As Shona headed off to catch some stand-up, I guiltily decided I ought to try and do some of the university work I'd brought, and spend some time reading on the upper levels of the museum. After reading for long enough to feel suitably studious, I wandered over to the Scottish National Gallery - the highlight of which was The Monarch of the Glen painting by Sir Edwin Landseer, as I'd seen many (much smaller) reproductions before, but seeing the original was extraordinary.
I met Shona outside the gallery and together we found our way over to the International Book Festival site without too much trouble. There we were reunited with Maria and went to the author's tent to meet Ece, who was due to go on stage at the Spiegeltent. After introductions, we made use of the free coffee in the author's area and left Ece to get acquainted with both the event chair and Jacqueline Woodson, the American author who would also be at the event.
The Spiegeltent was a lovely venue, and its interior of wood, mirrors and cloth roof felt like something from a bygone era - in the best possible way. You can read about the event itself over on our intern blog, where Shona has written a post. To end the night, Maria, Shona and I walked across the city to attend a performance of 12, an LGBT cabaret reimagining of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, complete with a perfectly timed spoken-word rendition of Katy Perry's song 'I Kissed a Girl'.
Saturday morning saw us reconvening at the Princes Street branch of Waterstones for a meeting with author Tendai Huchu (The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician) who resides in the city. I'd read Tendai's novel some years ago, and it was fascinating to meet the man behind the words I'd so enjoyed. After some lively conversation (ranging from the history of the Shona ethnic group to Brexit), we all parted ways to continue exploring different areas of the city. I spend my afternoon wandering the city, trying (in vain) to develop a better sense of direction, stopping to grab lunch from a street-food vender in the lively Grassmarket. I also briefly went to the National Portrait Gallery - where I proceeded to get very confused by the marble busts being turned to face the wall. As it happens, I'd missed the plaque explaining this was part of the art installation 'Black Burns', a project challenging the Scottish idolatry of Robert Burns.
That evening I met back up with Maria and Shona in Stockbridge, for an event with Ece at the beautiful Golden Hare Books, an independent bookshop which is nestled in amongst other delightfully quirky shops on St Stephen Street. There we met staff members Julie and Annie, both incredibly friendly, with a palpable love of literature. Annie chaired Ece’s event, and it was great to see her enthusiasm for not just the novel but for literature in translation more generally (more details and photos of the event on the blog). After the event, we spent some time at a nearby pub with Ece, swapping stories from different parts of the world. After this, we parted ways – Shona and I went on to explore the fringe festival’s stand-up comedy scene, but ended up having to walk out of a particularly dire performance. Still, that's a fringe festival rite of passage surely?
On Sunday we once again met at Waterstones, as Tendai had graciously offered to give us a tour of the city. From Princes Street we wound our way through graveyards and alleys to the Grassmarket, before heading over to the Scottish Parliament. From here we could see the famous Arthur’s Seat, but decided that this would perhaps be a challenge best left for another day! We stopped briefly to admire Holyrood Palace, before making our way up Calton Hill - a perfect spot for a coffee whilst admiring the views of the city below. Maria was particularly taken with the National Monument of Scotland, a structure that echoes the Parthenon of her native Athens, and which really drives home the city’s nickname of ‘the Athens of the North’. After making our way down the hill and back into the heart of the city, we parted ways with Tendai and headed to a restaurant for lunch, as we couldn’t possibly leave Scotland without sampling its most famous dish, haggis! Whilst I wasn't sure what to expect, the general consensus seemed to be that it was a bit stodgy, quite spicy, probably not something we'd want to eat a massive amount of, but that said, not unpleasant. As the afternoon and evening progressed, we went to various fringe performances, the highlights of which were an improvised Sherlock Holmes mystery and a hilariously sharp-witted cabaret act entitled ‘Hans: Mein Camp’.
Before I knew it, it was Monday morning, and time to return to our 'ugly, lovely' Swansea. It was also Maria's birthday, and whilst I'm sure a long train journey is no-one's idea of birthday fun, I like to think that a combination of souvenir tartan and haggis made it slightly more bearable!
Before this trip, I had never been to Scotland, let alone to Edinburgh, and I am so very thankful to Parthian for the opportunity to come along. The city itself is exceptionally beautiful (even if prone to being overcast), and full to bursting with culture. I found that whilst the trip was a wonderful introduction to ‘Auld Reekie’, it was also a highly valuable learning experience, allowing for an insight into the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of literary events.
You can read more about the trip over on our Intern’s blog, where Shona has written in more detail about Ece’s events, including questions which were asked during an interview.